2010 Diary<< Back to Road Diary
Day 1, Training, Travel and Trains
The CEM900 team would like to thank all of those who have made this event possible: our families, our donors, with special thanks to Merchants Bank as our title sponsor, our friends and the great people of Kids 'n Kinship. This is our 5th Annual Merchants Bank Christian Elder Memorial 900 Ride for Kids 'n Kinship, certainly a noteworthy milestone and hopefully one of many more milestones to come.
The 2010 ride includes a record number of riders (six), including our first female rider. In preparing for the ride, we have endured cold, windy conditions, spills, spinning classes and personal trainers. Some of us are better conditioned than others. Bob Benda keeps sending pictures of his rather unorthodox training regimen, and we will concede that it does indeed appear to be interesting. The riders have questioned the training routine, or possible lack thereof, of Bob Porter, who has yet to respond to the constant ribbing. But we have all made it to the starting point, ready or not, with our eye on the goal of raising needed funds for Kids 'n Kinship. We have ambitiously set our goal at $30,000, approximately 15% higher than our previous record. It is a true testament to our supporters that we can feel this optimism despite the difficult economic times.
John finished loading the RV and trailer, picked Gordy up and headed for Des Moines to meet up with Bob, who drove from Dallas, and with Dennis and Kathy, who were in Iowa on a return trip from Colorado. After lunch with our friends Ron and Joe in Des Moines, we drove the final stretch to Davenport. Bob programmed his GPS to arrive at Modern Woodmen Park (?) in Davenport, and along the way there was some discussion as to whether to listen to the GPS, as “recalculating” was heard at least a couple of times. We arrived safely, found a good parking spot near the Mississippi River and set up for the night.
At the ballpark Bob told the ticket girl that we would spend no more than $12 per seat, which happened to be the highest price ticket. We got great seats right behind home plate, and the hometown Quad Cities River Bandits trounced the Beloit Snappers 6-1. It was a beautiful night in a great park, although Kathy seemed more interested in people watching than baseball. One of the fans next to us said that Joe Mauer played a season in Quad Cities. What a small world!
After some of Sherry’s rhubarb pie for dessert (yum!), we spent the night in the parking lot at the ballpark. It was a great night for sleeping with a nice cool breeze blowing. We didn’t notice, however, quite how close we were to the train tracks. John and Bob didn’t hear a thing, but the rest of us thought the train was coming straight through the RV. If all goes according to plan, night number 2 will be in a State Park campground.
Day 2, Grilling With Gordy
The memories came flooding back. I sometimes think we should be on the Food Network with so much focus on eating...perhaps “Grilling With Gordy” as a show title? We started the morning with a sizzling grill filled with bacon, eggs, french toast and a fajita scrambled egg dish. I was thinking a nap was in order after breakfast; however, duty was calling.
We packed up and headed west from Davenport past Iowa City for the kick off to the 2010 CEM900. Normally we take a few photos before we start pedaling to commemorate the Day 1 start. John was really on a mission, however, and he took off while everyone else was still getting ready. Editorial comment: I think he just didn't want to take a chance at being beaten by a girl on the very first leg. After our staggered start, the riders managed to miss the very first turn of the planned route. Then we came upon a road closure and detour sign...it was going to be one of those days. Luckily the riders were able to pick up the plan B road and get back on course. Gordy, on the other hand, was sent meandering down some gravel roads about 15 miles off course on his detour.
After our first 25-mile ride, we stopped for watermelon and pasta salad (Sherry comes through again). During the day we discovered that the roads weren't always marked with signs and that our map was not always as detailed and accurate as we would like. Bob programmed the GPS for Gordy, and the rest of us made sure we were all taking the same turns.
Oh, and the ride. The county roads were lightly traveled and had very smooth surfaces. Some areas were relatively flat and other sections were rolling with some very nice climbs. Generally, the wind was at our backs as we rode mostly west and south. The scenery through the countryside was marvelous with the rich farmland and valleys and streams and well-maintained farmsteads. The sun shone brightly all day, and the temperature was in the low 80's. Overall it was a great day to be out on our bikes.
The day flew by as we hopped from town to town, finishing our first 60 miles in Sigourney, Iowa. We drove to Lake Keomah State Park just outside of Oskaloosa and found a nice campsite after 7 p.m. In no time Gordy had chicken on the grill, and we sat down for our first of many feasts. After dinner we were not a very lively bunch, and it was an early bedtime for all. Of course, not until after Kathy served rhubarb pie and ice cream to John and Dennis as her final Day 1 indoctrination as a “Biker Boy”, as John likes to say.
Day 3, Chivalry Is Not Dead
The morning sun was bright and the birds were singing as we enjoyed our hearty breakfast. After packing the RV, we drove to our starting point southeast of Oskaloosa intent upon getting an earlier start. Once the bikes were unloaded, Dennis saw that he had a flat tire. John thought “bummer for you”, jumped on his bike and took off. While pumping Kathy's tire, the valve core came out, resulting in another flat. This was eerily familiar...hopefully this wouldn't be like Day 2 of last year's ride. Dennis quickly replaced Kathy's tube and sent her to follow John (who said chivalry is dead?). Bob, perhaps still stinging from the criticism of not being a team player last year, stayed back this time to help Dennis replace his tube.
The scenery was beautiful on the first 9-mile section through the rolling hillside. Dennis and Bob caught up to John and Kathy in Chillicothe, where they were trying to get directions from a couple of residents. We found our way out of town heading west and rode to our next stop. We ate lunch and noticed that the next stretch of road was carrying a significant amount of traffic, including semis and gravel trucks, so we loaded the bikes and drove ahead to a less busy section of road. Back on our bikes we rode on an Iowa scenic byway to Unionville. Yes, scenic byway means BIG hills!
Unionville was quite interesting. Shortly after he arrived at the mother ship, Dennis was approached by a Deliverance-style resident, who asked if Christian Elder was the bike rider who won the Tour de France but was disqualified. When Dennis told him that Floyd Landis was that rider, the man replied, “Why do I always get those two mixed up?”. Bite your tongue, Dennis, just let it go. The guy also told Bob that there was a music festival outside of town, so Bob took off to check it out. As the rest of us took a break, an elderly couple stopped to tell us that the husband was born at the location where we were parked. The wife asked if we were from Minnesota after hearing our “accents”. I'm not sure what she meant.
We rode another ten miles, loaded bikes again, and drove through another busy section of road. During the last 20-mile ride a couple of farm dogs chased Dennis first. Although they looked to be harmless labs, they could still inadvertently knock a rider down, so Dennis rode back to distract the dogs while Kathy rode past. Once again, who said chivalry is dead? Kathy offered her gratitude.
We had a pleasant ride to the finish in the calm afternoon. Everyone is in great shape and in great spirits. We drove ahead to the Humeston municipal campground for grilled burgers and veggies. Our group goal was to stay awake until 10:00, which we all accomplished (barely).
Day 4, Hills, Hills and More Hills
Another bright sunny morning greeted us as we all slept well past 7:00. Our morning routine seems to have been established. Gordy has become our own short order cook for breakfast so we can all have what we want...eggs sunny-side up, crisp or “wiggly” bacon, toast, and french toast to order. We are very fortunate and happy riders!
Today we were able to bike right out of our campsite, and we headed on a mostly westerly route for the day. We rode through several quaint little towns, from Humeston to Garden Grove to Grand River to Ellston to Tingley (the host town of Elder family reunions) and finally to Diagonal. John has been telling stories of his childhood with his brothers and all of the mischief. Kathy feels sorry for John's mom, but the rest of us think she was just doing what moms do.
The back tire on Dennis' bike was slowly leaking air on the first leg of the ride. He decided to keep riding to not slow the group down, and he managed to roll into the first stop with about half pressure. He made a quick change while everyone was eating a light lunch, and we took off down the road. The story of the day was hills, hills, and more hills. We have different perspectives on hill riding. John thinks he should have done more hill training. Bob hates to see the road dropping to a river bottom, because he knows we will be climbing the other side. Kathy likes to ride up, because she knows she will get to go downhill after reaching the top (and I thought John was an optimist). Dennis enjoys coasting to the bottom of the hill so he can start another climb (not sure what that says about him).
All along the ride today we encountered many friendly and curious people. John, Kathy and Bob stopped at a winery and then talked to an elderly man who was on his way fishing with his dog, a Jack Russell Terrier, not one of them cuddly dogs. Despite asking, it was never clear to them how old the man was or what he was fishing for. In Diagonal we were asked if we were “the band”, although we don't know which band. At our campsite people were taking pictures while John backed the trailer and RV into our spot...we must be famous. Another guy came over to admire our bikes and to tell us that he too likes to ride, except when he was hit by a car and airlifted to the hospital. It didn't seem very uplifting except he was here to tell about it. The campground manager was also very snoopy, like an RV park dog sniffing the tires, according to Bob.
At the end of our ride we drove through the municipal campground at Diagonal, but it was completely full. We have never before ridden over Memorial Day weekend, so we have not encountered spots with no availability. The state park campgrounds are definitely full, so we are focusing on the municipal sites. We headed north to Creston and found a municipal campground near a lake, and very near some railroad tracks. We are in no position to be choosy.
Gordy grilled some huge ribeye steaks, and we refueled our bodies. Once again we struggled to stay awake until 10:00, but somehow managed. John taught Bob how to play cribbage, so they can have one more thing over which to compete.
Day 5, Go To the Light
The trains seemed to run all night long in Creston...fast trains, slow trains, long trains, short trains. Where is Dr. Seuss? We were discussing all of the trains in the morning, and John asked, “What trains?” And this coming from the guy who was just telling us what a light sleeper he is!
After breakfast and a stop for groceries and gas, we drove south of Creston and stopped to check the wind. The ever reliable grass test showed the wind coming from the southwest, the directions we were planning to ride today. We decided that the wind was not severe enough to warrant a change in route, so we disembarked as planned. By the time we were riding, the wind was blowing straight out of the south, so John and Dennis drafted for the first 8-mile stretch before turning west.
We rode through Clearfield, the home of the State Fair shuttles. Everyone should be proud of something. John, Dennis and Kathy stopped for photos at the Lions Club wooden truck, but Bob apparently wanted no part of this foolishness. We continued west on a 30-plus mile run toward Hepburn with a lunch break along the way. The hills were daunting all the way, and the riders were hoping for even a short stretch of flat roadway. The road surfaces were great, however, and the wind was giving us a slight push. During the first three and a half days of riding, there was nary a cloud in the sky, and we all welcomed the cloud cover that came over during this stretch.
As Dennis neared Highway 71, a sheriff's truck was pulling in behind the mother ship. The deputy waited and asked if we were having any problems. Dennis explained that Gordy was just waiting for riders as we bike across Iowa. When the deputy learned where we were riding next, he chuckled and said to enjoy the climb to the west of Hepburn. It really wasn't much more severe than anything else we had ridden, but we did note an abrupt change in the wind. In an instant the wind was blowing out of the north, a much cooler breeze as a dark cloud was moving toward our path from the south. A little lightning, a little thunder, a little nervousness on Kathy's part, but Dennis just told her to ride to the light toward the west. Her pace up the hills quickened like never before as she wanted to get away from any sort of thunderstorm. We did all get rained on, a cool refreshing rain, before we finished our ride.
We loaded the bikes and went in search of a campground. The first one west of Clarinda was full. The second one north of Clarinda was full. We were all hungry and tired, so we followed a sign to the fair grounds in Clarinda. We parked on a dead end street next to the fair grounds and grilled burgers and brats. After dinner we watched the lightning from a storm rolling our direction and then we all made our way to bed, tired from another long day of riding.
Day 6, Oh, What a Day
All of the riders agreed that today was the best day so far. We were on a mission to get to Omaha for a baseball game, so we started pedaling shortly after 9:00, by far our earliest start. It was a cool 54 degrees with a cool northerly breeze as we took off through the rolling countryside. What a great day to finish the first 300-mile segment of our ride!
Over our five days we have taken advantage of the sights and sounds around us. The farmsteads are well-manicured, and many of the farm homes look magnificent as we approach, the peonies in full bloom, and the corn fields growing each day with the sun and rain. Red-winged blackbirds have guided us along most of our path, singing as we get near and flying overhead as we go by, their shadows racing our bikes on the road. Kathy dodged a raccoon scampering across the road, and we have all spotted deer along the way. We have biked through the smell of manure freshly spread in some of the fields (and a little bit spread on the road), an occasional stench of skunks and seemingly more than our share of roadkill. Rusty windmills dotted the landscape over the tops of wells to pump water for the grazing cattle, using wind power out of necessity long before it became “green”. Kathy likes that the cows stare when we bike past them, as if we are some sort of odd sight, but don't even bother to look up as we drive past in the RV. We biked along a large wind farm in southern Iowa and past a herd of goats on the outskirts of a small town. The rural cemeteries were fully decorated for Memorial Day, and we paused in remembrance and reflected in the peaceful setting.
Today we started near Clarinda and proceeded to Coin and then south 5 miles on the first flat road surface of the week. We rode parallel to the Missouri border only a couple of miles to the north and then headed north in the direction of Council Bluffs. The last section of the day was along the Loess Hills Scenic Byway. Yes, it had a couple of large hills to climb, but wasn't as difficult as initially anticipated. Bob, who had seemed to be riding more sluggishly today than previous days, seemed to get a burst of energy and cruised through this final leg into the town of Randolph.
About that ballgame... We certainly finished early enough to go to a night game. Unfortunately, the Omaha Royals played at noon. Oh, well, Jay Saterbak bought steaks on his way to meet us at Lake Manawa State Park in Council Bluffs, and we feasted once again at our campsite.
Congratulations to Kathy and Bob on the completion of their 300-mile rides! Both did marvelously, and all of the training and hard work showed.
Day 7, A Detour, a Repair, Laundry and a Movie (Oh, and a 60-Mile Bike Ride)
Our campsite was a flurry of activity Tuesday morning as Kathy and Bob packed up to leave, swapping bikes and gear with Jay. Gordy cooked a pile of food for breakfast, we said our goodbye's, snapped some photos and left camp.
Dennis navigated the rig out of Council Bluffs toward the starting point of the ride. Although Bob left behind his GPS, fondly named Chloe, it was an easy drive, and enlisting Chloes's assistance was deemed unnecessary. With only one turn to make, Dennis went back to other tasks. For some reason John decided to turn west back to Council Bluffs. We should have been in the open countryside, but the traffic was getting heavier and the stoplights more frequent. Realizing the blunder, John engineered a turnaround, which almost included a wrong-way diversion down a one-way street. Personally, this author believes John was subconsciously, or perhaps consciously, searching for a Starbucks. Despite the detour, we arrived at our destination for a reasonable start time.
The wind was blowing from the south as we biked to the north. John and Dennis had ridden a good portion of this route two years ago, so the landscape and the towns were familiar. We stopped at Shelby, just north of I-80, for some photo opportunities, including a giant metal corn stalk structure with a pig and a cow where ears of corn would be, and a wooden “Bullwinkle” in the middle of town.
The hills were rolling, but the increasing tailwind was helping. After our 40-mile stop, Jay broke his chain as he started pedaling. He loaded his bike in the trailer and rode with Gordy to the next stop in Dow City. Gordy and Jay worked on the repairs as John and Dennis rolled into town. Storms were brewing nearby, so John and Dennis took off toward the finish, a stretch of road they remembered vividly. They paused at a Farmall tractor mailbox, yes, the very same mailbox from the 2008 diary. Jay's on-the-road repair didn't work, so he had a big smile on his face as he rode with Gordy up the final big climb for the day. We finished in a light rain, but avoided the storms.
We drove into Denison to find a laundromat, and Jay called a bike shop. He took his bike to Steve's Bicycle and Sports Center, an attached garage with many items cluttering the driveway. Steve, the proprietor who seemed content to sit in his chair, apparently specializes in repairs of bikes, scooters, golf clubs, lawnmowers, and foosball tables, among other things. Steve found a chain and initially watched as Jay worked on the repair, but ultimately he joined in. Jay gave him all the cash he had, a 20 and some crumpled singles and biked back to the RV. Hopefully the chain holds tomorrow.
With laundry done, a bike repaired, rain lightly falling and time moving past 6:00, we opted to dine out. We received a couple of strong recommendations for El Jimador Mexican Grill, so we gave it a shot. We were not misled...the food and service were very good. Severe storms were to the south of us moving east, so we headed to a county campground, Yellow Smoke Park, and backed the trailer up to the lake. Since it was still raining, we watched our first movie of the road trip, Kingpin, starring Woody Harrelson, Bill Murray and Randy Quaid. We laughed through the whole movie, ate rootbeer floats for dessert, and jumped into bed around 11:00.
Day 8, A Ying, a Yang and a Baseball Game
We spent a little more time in camp this morning than originally intended. Jay pulled his bike out of the trailer and determined that Steve hadn't really done a very good repair after all. He grabbed the tools provided by our bike guy at Hollywood Cycles and went back to work. Phone calls were made, email was checked...life and work do go on while we are out here biking around.
Breakfast done and all tasks completed, we drove 10 miles northeast of Denison to Vail and unloaded the bikes. The brilliant morning sunshine had vanished behind a thick curtain of clouds. While it had seemed fairly calm in our sheltered campground, the wind was blowing strongly from the northwest as we biked northward into the hills. It was a tough 9-miler to our first turn to the west, but we all rolled through it and headed toward Kiron. More wind and more river valleys and bluffs greeted us as we biked forward. Then things got a little interesting...at a T in the road Gordy yinged left while the rest of us yanged right into town. John and Dennis mulled over the options and decided that Gordy must have gone the other direction. We biked back and spotted the mother ship along the road. This short stretch of road was a busy US Highway with trucks rumbling by, so we loaded our bikes to get to a new road.
It was now after one o'clock, and we were less than twenty miles into the day's ride. We debated turning back and biking with the wind, but that would take us further from Sioux City, where we planned to see a baseball game. Continuing into the wind for another 40 miles was not desirable to all of us, so we compromised and rode another 13 miles west before taking a tailwind to the south for the rest of the day. After finishing the 13-mile westerly section, John exclaimed, “The only good thing about that ride is that it's over!” Jay made even stronger comments.
Riding to the south was quite literally a breeze compared to the first half of the ride. Along the way Jay spotted a rusty old truck with a bathtub, an irresistible photo op, and we also stopped at a playground. We continued to the south on the best road surface of our ride, and we took full advantage of this surface and the winds to top out at over 40 mph on a couple of runs. We finished our 60 miles near Dunlap, showered in the RV and started our drive to Sioux City.
We easily found the baseball park and arrived just in time for the 7:00 start. Surprised to see the game already in the third inning, we didn't let that stop us from buying the best seats we could get, in the first and second row right behind home plate. We were further surprised, however, when the players ran out on the field after the 7th inning. The game was over. Happily we learned that this was the first of a double-header between the Sioux City Explorers and the Lincoln Salt Dogs, two 7-inning games. Bonus for us! In the second game we witnessed a thrilling triple-play pulled off by the home team after a superb diving catch by the leftfielder. We were all hoping to see a homerun, and after one particularly big swing, Jay yelled “There it is!” on a meek, broken-bat pop-up to the second baseman. He will be harassed for a long time about that.
The game was tied after 7 innings, and it was way past bedtime, so we headed back to the RV, except Jay, who stayed for the game's extra inning conclusion. Once again we slept at the ballpark parking lot, and there was a definite chill in the air. As we made our way to bed, our thoughts turned back to the ride, which will cross over the halfway point tomorrow.
Day 9, Storm Lake Lives Up To Its Name
We grabbed a quick breakfast before leaving the ballpark for groceries and gas. It was a long shopping trip as we completely restocked the cupboards, coolers and refrigerator. Once the necessities were handled, we drove 10 miles northeast of Sioux City to start riding. Our intention was to ride mostly east all day long to end up somewhere near Storm Lake. There was a strong wind out of the south, however, that impeded our progress, and we ultimately only rode 20-plus miles east.
Our first stop for watermelon was on an approach very near a rural home. Just as we were getting ready to leave, a woman and her daughter, Randi and Taylor, walked out to greet us. Randi explained that she had googled us and linked to our website before coming out to learn a little more. We told her about Kids 'n Kinship and our charity ride, and we also noticed that Taylor was wearing her charity t-shirt, a pink Walk for the Cure shirt. Dennis told Randi to check out the road diary, since they would now be included by virtue of having come out to chat with us. We thanked them for the use of their property and biked down the road.
We turned north and enjoyed the tailwind for the rest of the day. It was a very workman-like day as we just ground out the miles. The hills were gentle rollers, and there were long sections of flat roadway. We were planning to make quick work of the day, but first ran into a very busy section of road. We loaded the bikes in the trailer and headed to the next section, but ran into a detour. On our way to find another road we found more road construction. This was getting ridiculous. After killing about an hour, we finally found a suitable route to finish.
We drove to a county campground south of Cherokee. John, Jay and Gordy stepped out at the dump station, and Jay jumped right back in, mumbling something about how he felt sorry for the guy who would be grilling the chicken tonight. The campground was swarming with gnats and mosquitoes. We abandoned this site and headed to Storm Lake. The municipal campground was near the lake and seemed adequate, but the camp hostess was quite annoying. Apparently we had inconvenienced her by showing up after hours. We were lucky that she was still here, so she could check the computer to see if any sites were available, perhaps besides the dozens of open spots we could see from the front. We are still reading the campground rules as they are printed on a multi-page foldout pamphlet. Oh, well...
Gordy grilled chicken and asparagus, and we added baked potatoes, salad with bacon crumbles, chips and beans. We cleaned up and were set to watch Austin Powers when we ran into a snag – electrical issues on the VCR player. Jay disassembled the whole set-up and made a temporary fix. Movie night proceeded as planned! It was already late, however, and Gordy was the only one to make it through the movie.
As John and Dennis headed to bed in the trailer, a policeman stopped to say that a storm was on the way with 60 mph winds. We stayed awake until the storm blew in, but fell asleep with winds howling and rain pounding the rig with a torrential downpour. Hey, not much will get in the way of our much-needed sleep. Storm Lake lived up to its name, and we made it through the night without incident.
Day 10, What Goes On In the 900 Stays In the 900
We decided to mix things up a little for breakfast today...omelets, country sausage, toast and jam. The sky was bright, and the wind was already blowing strong out of the west after pushing the storms through. As we packed up we plotted a 60-mile route to the east on purple roads. Before we left on this year's adventure, John found an Iowa biking map that color codes all of the highways based on traffic levels. Purple is the lowest level, and we have stuck to these roads with only minor exceptions and have yet to be disappointed.
By the time we started riding east, the wind had already changed to northwesterly. At our first stop we modified our route to the south and east, which would bring us very near our planned camping area. We rode through the relatively flat countryside, past miles and miles of cornfields and an occasional poultry farm. If you think a cattle feedlot or pig farm stinks, you should take in a good whiff of a poultry barn. It's no good!
Unfortunately, the story of the day will be kept to ourselves...what goes on in the 900 stays in the 900! We are sworn to secrecy, unless you can sometime get John or Dennis in a talkative mood. That ought to be difficult. Suffice it to say that Jay sat out (quite literally) one leg of the ride but finished the day strong with John and Dennis. At the end of the ride in the town of Dana, John found a real fixer-upper for Carol Elstad to remodel.
We found a campground within five miles of our finishing spot using our Iowa camping guide. The guide is also an exceptional resource as we reminisced about previous years' struggles to find suitable campgrounds, often located by stopping at convenience stores to ask if there was camping nearby. We pulled into a county campground next to a little man-made lake. When John spotted the setup for the campground host, he declared that someday he and Sherry would spend their summers as campground host and hostess somewhere.
Dinner was another feast...pork chops, applesauce, fresh cooked spinach, a medley of veggies on the grill and most spectacularly, gravy cooked over the stove by John. We enjoyed the evening and clear sky and then settled into the RV for another movie night, The Mask of Zorro with Catherine Zeta Jones and a couple of irrelevant guys. Dennis introduced the rest of the 900 boys to popcorn popped in bacon grease as our movie snack. We all made it through tonight's feature and finished with a rootbeer float before finding our beds.
Day 11, A Refreshing Finish
We awoke to an early morning rain, raindrops lightly falling on the mother ship. It had the feel of an all-day rain, so we all continued to sleep. However, the rain passed before 8:00, and we set about our daily preparations. John proposed a quick breakfast of toast and fruit, but he was over-ruled in favor of a full french toast, bacon and egg meal prepared by Gordy. Although we were getting a late start, it was well worth the delay.
Finally we headed off less than 10 miles to the Raccoon River Valley Trail trailhead in Jefferson. John and Dennis had ridden the RRVT two years ago and were well aware that they needed to ride their trail bikes, despite the trail being asphalt and concrete. Many of the crossings are rock gravel or soft sand, so the wider tires are necessary. On the trail we rode 17 miles into a strong headwind to our first stop, John drafting behind Dennis much of the way to Yale. Just beyond Yale the trail was under construction; luckily Jay had biked ahead a little to discover this before Gordy headed down the road. Once again we made changes on the fly as we decided to bike back to our starting point.
In Jefferson we loaded the bikes and drove past Yale to Panora, where we were able to get back on the trail and continue toward Des Moines. It was a beautiful, yet hot and humid, afternoon for our ride. The tree cover along the river and the gradual turn toward the east were welcomed as we picked up a nice tailwind. The scenery was stunning, and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
As we moved to the finish, a quick moving storm cell moved across our path. The rain started gently enough, but soon John and Dennis were riding in a monsoon...ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, but it was raining really hard and the wind was whipping. Jay had already finished and was back at the RV with Gordy, but he came out in the rain to get a picture of Dennis riding to the finish in the downpour. We were all completely drenched, but it was a great, refreshing finish in Adel.
We found a laundromat and a grocery store in Adel, so we spent some time getting ready for the last five days of riding. Next we drove to Des Moines to the State Fairground camping area. It was already after 9:00, and we still hadn't eaten dinner. Jay volunteered to cook, and we ate a fantastic meal of steak, broccoli, potatoes and sauteed mushrooms with green onions. There would be no movie tonight as we barely made it through dinner before retiring for the night, the calming sound of a demolition derby in the background lulling us to sleep.
Day 12, That's How You Catch a Ball
Another beautiful morning greeted us on our only day off during this year's ride. It was a much anticipated day off after pedaling 600 miles thus far. A day earlier our coffee pot had been knocked out of the coffee maker, crashing to the floor during a rough turn. This memory came back as we looked for a solution to the mounting crisis of no morning coffee. Eventually, the setback was taken in stride with the use of a kettle, a spoon, a cup and a canning jar. John demonstrated the perfected brew method on the second kettle of coffee.
It was Jay's last morning with us, so he offered to cook breakfast with our previous night's leftovers. We ate scrambled eggs with broccoli and a big serving of potato and steak hash. It was another excellent meal. It was very unusual to have a leisurely morning with no particular mission or agenda. We told and retold some stories, including John talking about his encounter with a plane while biking on the trail yesterday. Apparently a plane was circling overhead, and John waved to the pilot, thinking the pilot was toying with him a little. The pilot did not acknowledge John at all, but rather started bringing the plane down through an opening and into a cornfield. The wind was tossing the plane around, but the pilot put one wheel down and then the second as it veered off into the corn. We see the strangest things out here at times.
Bob Porter showed up at our campsite around noon to replace Jay. We said our farewell's to Jay and congratulated him on a job well done. Now not to rip on the new guy right off the bat, but we learned that Bob forgot to bring the fresh-baked cookies that Sherry had made for us. Joann's brownies and rice krispy bars are long gone, and we were really looking forward to some homemade treats. This does not bode well for Bob's start.
Joe Kranovich, our Des Moines-based accountant, also showed up around noon to bring us to an Iowa Cubs baseball game. The ballpark facility was fabulous and we had a great, sunny afternoon to watch a game. Unfortunately, the Cubs didn't have a stellar outing as the New Orleans Zephyrs pounded the hometown boys 10-4. The Zephyrs third baseman, Hector Luna, homered in his first at bat, but then missed an easy foul pop-up. A short time later a foul fly reached the seats near us, and a boy caught it in his glove. Bob yelled, “Hey, Luna, that's how you catch a ball!” Luna looked back at Bob and gave him a thumb's up. He later homered again, which, of course, we blamed on Bob. It might be that kind of week.
After the game, Joe drove us to K-Mart for a new coffee maker, a shiny new Mr. Coffee for $18.99, before dropping us back at the campground. Thank you to Joe for the hospitality in Des Moines. We finished the day with burgers on the grill and finally popcorn and a movie, Office Space, a comedy from the late 1990's starring Jennifer Aniston. Tomorrow we will see how Bob's training has paid off.
Day 13, We All Hit the Trail, One of Us Quite Literally
We fueled up on french toast, sausage, eggs and juice and departed Des Moines on our way to a trail in Ankeny. Along the way, John happily noted that he knows of a Starbucks in Ankeny. Hmmm...John picks the starting point in Ankeny where there just so happens to be a Starbucks. Coincidence? I think we all know the answer to that.
After the stop at Starbucks, we started searching for the trailhead. These trails frequently are not marked very well, on maps or with signs. We arrived at a location that looked to be near the trailhead but still saw nothing. Finally we found a notation on the trail website that said the trail starts under the water tower. Good for us...we were right next to the water tower. The struggle to find the trail would be a foreshadowing of our whole day.
The first 12 miles of trail was brand new asphalt north of Ankeny. The rest of the trail was limestone and rolled through a number of small towns with no trail signage at all. We rode through Huxley to Cambridge and came upon a detour. Actually, we came to a closed trail sign with no detour posted. There was a map, however, so we plotted a route on the highway to jump ahead on the trail a few miles. On the road we were a little puzzled and asked for directions from a deputy, who assured us that we were on the right track.
On the trail again we stopped for a picture, some of us stopping more gracefully than others, Bob. Those clips just don't come out of the pedals sometimes. It could happen to any of us, although it doesn't. If Bob claims to any of you that the photo is doctored, just remember that John and Dennis are not technologically savvy enough to use Photoshop.
In the next town of Maxwell we lost the trail again and headed down a very rocky road. We met a city employee who pointed us back down the road and down a barely discernible grass path. Back on course we rode into Collins and another trail end. We asked a gentleman for directions...left one block, right to Main Street, left to the county road, right a couple of miles to a gravel road, straight on the gravel to a T, and left until you see the trail again. How did we not find this on our own? Despite the navigation issues, it was a great scenic trail the whole way. We had a wonderfully enjoyable ride and did not worry about time at all. The day was cloudy, cooler and calm, and we felt a few sprinkles of rain off and on throughout our ride.
The trail ended after 45 miles, so we headed north on the highway to ride out the day. We drove back to Marshalltown to a municipal campground and grilled chicken for a late dinner. After dinner we had enough energy for a rootbeer float, but not much else, as we all turned in for the night. No movie, no popcorn, and no baseball were on the schedule, just much needed sleep.
Day 14, A Tale of Two Days
Marshalltown will not be receiving any endorsements from the 900 boys. The campground was pleasant enough, but the stench that wafted through the town during the night was horrible. We assumed it was a slaughter house, and since we need very little evidence to draw our conclusions, that is going to be our story. No amount of noise has awakened John during the night on this trip, but at one point during the night, he asked Dennis what that awful smell was, somewhat accusatory I may add. Our morning bacon has to come from somewhere, but this morning we would have preferred that it came from somewhere else.
The rain was coming down hard as we awakened. The weather forecast was for rain and storms all day long. We made toast in the RV and drove to Waterloo for a grocery stop and better internet connection. The wind was gusting hard out of the south, and it was pouring rain as we drove. We decided that riding on the highways today would be unsafe, so we found a municipal campground that was connected to a trail on which we planned to ride 30 miles out and back. It was almost noon by the time we pedaled out of camp, and it was no longer raining. Eventually, we found trail markings to the south, but almost immediately came to a “trail closed” sign. We went around it, only to discover that an entire bridge looked to have been washed out by the Cedar River.
Plan B was to ride the city trails of Waterloo and Cedar Falls. Consistent with most city trails, the markings and signs for the trails were spotty to nonexistent. Our first wrong turn was right by City Hall, where John went in to get a trail map. With trail map in hand we were sure this would be “easy peasy”, according to John. It was not. We meandered through downtown Waterloo and kept stopping to consult the map. We finally found a trail out to Hudson, a trail along a 4-lane road through an industrial section. This was an ugly ride on an overcast, ugly day, and our progress was very slow.
By mid-afternoon we stopped at the Lickin Chicken shack in Hudson for malts and a snack. We were only 20 miles into the ride, and it wasn't looking good for a 60-miler. We opted for a different route back into the city, but you guessed it, trail closed. This one actually had a detour, however, and the trail was more scenic. Very suddenly the sky cleared, and the trails got better and more scenic. At one point Dennis was riding and felt something on his helmet and heard a clawing for just a couple of seconds. He was fairly certain that a red-winged blackbird had landed on his head. He stopped, and Bob confirmed it. Shortly thereafter John rolled up and said that something had been on his helmet. We told him what it was, and we all laughed and wished we could have gotten a picture. This bird had taken its natural instinct to protect to a whole new level. Frequently on the ride we have seen them riding on the backs of hawks, but we never dreamed one would try to attack us.
We accumulated miles through some beautiful city trails, along the river, past ponds, through parks and heavily treed areas, totally different from the earlier ride. Navigation of the trails was a problem all day, and the map was not always particularly helpful. The trail unexpectedly ended at one point near the end of the day, but we asked a couple of bikers to help us. They debated, took a look at the map, decided the map was worthless, and pointed us down the road to reconnect with the trail. We thanked them and followed their directions perfectly to find our way back to our campground where Gordy was waiting patiently. We pulled in at 7:00 after more than 5 hours of pedaling, but we got our 60!
We ate a dinner of corn on the cob, salad wedges and monstrous steaks on the grill. The best news of the day...Bob managed to stay awake long enough for his first rootbeer float.
Day 15, Where the Wind Blows...
The day looked much more promising from the onset as we arose in Waterloo. Gordy cooked our breakfast on the grill in the bright morning sunshine as we prepared to depart. Remembering that Bob's bike needed a repair, John pulled it out of the trailer to take a look. The repair work looked more fitting of a bike shop than something we could handle on the road, so we opted to change Bob's pedals to John's spare bike, Rocket. Before we broke camp we consulted the Kids 'n Kinship-provided windsock and learned that the wind was blowing strong out of the west, which bode well for our ride to the east.
The day flew by. Back on the highways for the first time since last week, we were riding so fast that Gordy could barely keep pace. Alright, maybe not that fast, but we were really cruising. By mid-ride we each set goals for the average speed to attain, and we pedaled hard to reach them. We watched the rural scenery passing us by as we rolled through the hills. Central Iowa is certainly much flatter than southern Iowa, and certain riders have really appreciated this fact.
What a difference a day makes! After yesterday's long, arduous ride on the trails, today we all finished in right around three hours, averaging from 18 to 22 mph. John is claiming the ride as unassisted, but once again the windsock is telling a different story. We had just about enough time to make the hour-long drive to the Quad Cities to see the River Bandits play again. It is two weeks to the day since we made our first appearance at Modern Woodmen Park, and what a two weeks it has been.
The game was in the second inning by the time we got to our seats. It was an absolutely perfect night for baseball. The game itself was an entertaining back-and-forth affair with the home team scoring a run in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game and send it to extra innings. Bob claimed to feel raindrops, but the rest of us saw nothing but a clear, starry night. He used this as his excuse to head back to the RV to go to sleep, so he missed the game-winning homerun by South Bend in the top of the tenth. John took numerous photos at the game, not all of which will make the daily log, but we decided which ones we would send to the other riders to show what they missed. We truly enjoyed observing small town baseball and its fans.
Despite eating mammoth foot-long brats at the game, John, Dennis and Gordy still found room for a rootbeer float. Bob only passed on the float because of the rather sizable waffle cone he ate at the game. It's our last night sleeping out on the road, and it looks like a great night to sleep.
Day 16, The Long Way Home
One by one we woke up early today, beginning at 6:00 a.m. We had a long journey back to Minneapolis, but not before we enjoyed our last camp breakfast cooked by Gordy. The setting was fabulous as we dined in a gazebo along the Mississippi River front on a bright, sunny morning. We left our ballpark campsite, pointed toward home and started driving. Only one hitch...there were 60 miles of this return trip to be spent pedaling our bikes.
About 2 hours after leaving Davenport, we stopped east of Cedar Rapids in a busy little town of Independence to begin our mostly northward journey. What little breeze there was came out of the southeast, but Bob somehow claimed we had a headwind, despite the disbelieving looks from John and Dennis. We threatened to get out the windsock, but Bob said he didn't need our fancy science because he had empirical evidence to support his position. Who invited the attorney along anyway?
About half of the first 22-mile stretch was along a road called Amish Way. It was noticeably different to bike through. The farmsteads were much closer together, and each one had a large vegetable garden, horses grazing (sometimes tied to a post in the ditch), a few cows, some buggies and no electricity. The Amish know all about commerce, however, and signs along the road advertised night crawlers, rugs, strawberries, quilts and crafts, candy, more night crawlers, fryers and “bunnies for sale, third place”. We went past horses and buggies along the road, including a pony with a very small cart pulling a couple of kids. Everyone waved as we went by, and two little boys tried to outrun John on foot, but alas, he is a 900 boy, and he was determined to prevail. Not to be outdone by the Amish, further north was a sign advertising that “coming soon” was a new retail concept, Everything Goat and More. Hold your breath everyone!
The rain started to fall lightly at the 20-mile mark, but the clouds looked much darker to the north. We put on our rain gear and flashing taillights and continued pedaling. This was by far the most miserable 20-mile stretch on the ride. The rain was heavy, and the traffic was heavier than most everything we had ridden. It wasn't even so much the volume of traffic as the type of traffic, trucks of all kind, milk trucks, fuel trucks, gravel trucks, grain trucks, and pickups pulling boats and large trailers. John contemplated calling the ride off for the day considering the conditions, but then both the traffic and the rain subsided. We took time to pose with some sculptures in a farmyard, including Puff (the Magic Dragon?), a T-rex, and a turtle.
We took a second break and then rode our final 15 miles for the day, proud to have endured. While stopped in a small town to shower, Bob got some ice from a tavern to ice his knees. The people of Iowa have been so generally helpful and generous on our trip. We drove to Mason City for a bite to eat, including frozen yogurt treats, and we turned north for the final drive home, arriving past our collective normal bedtimes. Tonight we sleep in our real beds in our homes, and tomorrow we will ride our final 60 miles on the trails in the Twin Cities.
Day 17, On Familiar Territory
It is always strange getting back to Minneapolis and going our separate ways, knowing that we still have another 60 miles to cover. In the morning John, Bob and Dennis reconvened at John's, jumped in the RV and drove all the way to....Starbucks. John muttered something about one cup of decaf not being enough to get him through the day, and Bob and Dennis gladly accepted the stop.
We parked the RV for our departure from Hopkins Depot, from which 4 trails spring. We rode north and east into downtown, where Bob paused to view the new Twins baseball park, then back around Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun, where we stopped for fish sandwiches at the Tin Fish. After lunch we rode east on the Midtown Greenway all the way to West River Parkway with its newly resurfaced trail along the Mississippi River. We continued south along the river, past Minnehaha Falls and on to Fort Snelling on a long, gradually descending trail through the woods.
Dennis neglected to tell John and Bob that there was a very steep climb at the end of this trail, but right before they reached it, he yelled, “granny gear”, and John shouted back, “I knew it!”. Dennis gutted his way up the hill and waited. You can ask John and Bob yourselves how they each fared with the climb. We crossed the Mendota Bridge, picked up another trail along the river, back across the 35E bridge, along Shepherd Road and into downtown St. Paul.
We intended to bike on Shepherd Road all the way back to the Mississippi to ride along the east side of the river, but for the final time we hit a closed trail. Instead we routed ourselves back to Fort Snelling via the same route we came. This time, however, we rode through the city along Minnehaha Parkway to Lake Harriet, connecting again to Lake Calhoun and ultimately to the trail back to the RV in Hopkins. We are blessed with great scenery on the trails in the Twin Cities, and we fully enjoyed the views along the way, particularly around Lake Calhoun.
Back in Hopkins we celebrated the completion of 900 miles for John and Dennis and 300 miles for Bob by raising our bikes over our heads, after finding a nice young woman to snap a photo. We congratulated each other and laughed again about some of our interesting tales as we drove back to Bloomington. We made it! We are happy and healthy and hopefully a few pounds lighter. Tomorrow is our full welcome home celebration, and we are very much looking forward to it.
Day 18, A Rousing Welcome Home
Saturday morning we met for one final ride on our 2010 tour, this one a short ceremonial trek to a “Welcome Home” celebration at Merchants Bank in Apple Valley. Kathy and Jay rejoined John, Dennis and Bob for the ride; only Bob Benda was unable to make the trip. Gordy led us into the bank parking lot in the RV as we rode toward the cheers of our many friends and family members. It was a cold and blustery morning, but that didn't seem to diminish the turnout.
Skip welcomed us back on behalf of Merchants Bank and committed the bank as title sponsor as long as we keep riding...hopefully he wasn't just caught up in the moment. Jan congratulated and thanked us on behalf of Kids 'n Kinship and presented us with plaques and photo books. John thanked the rest of the riders, the staff of Merchants Bank, the staff and volunteers from Kids 'n Kinship, Gordy, and the many others who helped us along the way. John also presented a mock check to Kids 'n Kinship in the amount of $25,140 from all of our fundraising efforts.
The party was a blast! There were hot dogs, ice cream, cookies, beverages, balloons, and break dancers, but the big hit was the homemade pinata. The kids took turns pounding away at the pinata until candy was spilling out on the ground. Oh, the joys of being a kid!
We all mingled until the crowd gradually dispersed. John was already discussing next year's ride – surprise! All of the 2010 riders have committed to riding again in 2011, a tribute both to the enjoyment we experience and to the collective dedication to the mission of Kids 'n Kinship. In a twist on Skip's comment, we will ride as long as you keep supporting us. Thanks to all, and see you again next year!